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When to Re-evaluate Senior Driver Skills

Studies show that while seniors are safer drivers due to experience, senior mortality rates are higher in crashes.  Here are some indicators that it may be time to re-evaluate an older adult’s driving skills and how to tactfully handle the situation.

Drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times as likely to crash while those who text are eight times as likely to be involved in a crash. These statistics include senior drivers.

The AAA Foundation says even though older adults are considered safer drivers because they are more likely to wear safety belts, observe speed limits and not drink and drive, there is still cause for concern since older driver fatality rates are 17 times higher than younger drivers.

Seniors driving dangerously

A 2017 survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Training Research and Education for Driving Safety program at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine shows that in a survey conducted with 397 anonymous senior drivers, 60 percent said they have engaged in distracted driving. Respondents said they talked on the telephone, reached for something, texted, made calls, ate and talked with other passengers. Additionally, 42 percent of the older adults who drove while distracted admitted to having children (grandchildren) with them.

Of all respondents, 18 percent reported being in a collision in the past two years, while 43 percent reported non-parking motor vehicle violation within the past two years. Only 3 percent said they received a citation for talking on the telephone.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 391,000 people (18 percent seniors) were injured by distracted driving in 2015 and 3,450 older adults were killed by distracted driving in 2016.

Driving experience counts

Distracted driving may become a bigger concern as older adult populations grow per capita but the good news is that AAA also says that driving fatalities have decreased over the past two years and older drivers tend to compensate for their limited physical reaction times with their years of driving experience.

Hard conversations about senior driving

Here are a few signs for realizing that older drivers may need help:

  • Ignores traffic laws like buckling up, discards traffic lights or signs, speed (too fast or slow) or makes poor driving decision or creates a hazard
  • Reacts slowly to changing traffic conditions
  • Drives erratically, gets lost (even in neighborhood driving) or  forgets brake and gas pedal

Personal freedom and self-esteem are associated with driving. There are ways to gently raise concern for a senior driver’s safety. Accidents or traffic citations help to raise the issue. The conversation should remain calm and supportive to avoid distress. You may need to wait until she is ready to discuss it.

Written by Alice Warner 
April 23, 2019

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